Monday 18 December 2017

Chrysler - Audio system, amplifier and head units

I've finally got round to getting my new Android head unit for the car (Thanks to my wife for my birthday present!) and so this has got me onto figuring out the audio system for my Chrysler Grand Voyager, and boy is it not simple!
Firstly, a standard ISO harness/converter adapter won't work as I've found out before when trying to fit my Bluetooth Parrot phone kit ( )

So I'm now starting to look seriously into how to wire in a new head unit, taking the back off the existing head unit I find the usual block of audio wires which are:

  • Front left (+/-)
  • Front right (+/-)
  • Rear left (+/-)
  • Rear right (+/-)
So I started out by modifying (cutting!) an ISO harness cable, that lets me disconnect one by one the wires and then feed in an alternative audio source. That way I can test each speakers input and feed it to make sure audio works.
I started by disconnecting the rear left output wires, and NO DIFFERENCE! Rear left still worked. I then did the same to rear right and again nothing happened, rear was still working! Playing with the fader and balance on the radio and it managed to still fade between front and rear, left and right. How odd! So next I cut the front left, and BOTH front and rear went off. Doing the same to right and the same, both front and rear went off.
I then fed new audio into front left and audio started to come out of the front and rear speakers correctly, doing the same to right showed the same. So this looks like it's ONLY feeding a left and right signal to the amplifier.
Now I do know this car has an amplifier hidden in the rear panels of the car, so next job was to locate it and see what it was up to!
Taking apart the rear panels I found the amp tucked away in the right hand side behind the speaker.
As you can see that also identified the speakers as Infinity, which nothing else had pointed to until this moment, so another point is to check the back of the speakers. I couldn't find any official specs for these, but testing I found them to be 2ohm speakers (Which is quite low, and would fit with them being decent/high performance. But bear in mind that means you need a decent amp/head unit to power them).

You have to take quite a bit of the panels off to get at it, unless you can contort your hand into the panel to get at the fastening nuts (I did this in the end!)
Here is the amplifier out of the mounts, at the top are two connector blocks.

You can see the two connector blocks (I'd removed one) and at the top right of photo is the connector for the rear right speaker I'd disconnected to get into the hole where the amplifier was.

The connector I've removed (I'll call it the right side connector) contains MOST of the speaker outputs. This car has 8 speakers. Front left (top speaker), front left (bottom speaker), front right (top speaker), front right (bottom speaker), rear left (top), rear left (bottom), rear right (top), rear right (bottom). The more observant of you will spot only 6 speaker pairs on that connector, they continue on the other connector (Chrysler mustn't be able to source connectors with more than a certain number of pins!).
So by feeding audio into each of these I discovered these directly drive the speakers around the car, and so can send audio to speakers direct, irrespective of if the ignition is on, amp is on, etc, which is good news.
Now I started to look into the audio from the head unit and by testing and following wires I found 4 wires coming from the head unit, left (+/-) and right (+/-) so that matched my findings that the amp simply got a left and right. So how did it handle fader/balance? The answer was on one of the other mystery wires.
There were 2 black (Both ground) 2 yellow with red stripe (Both had 12v constantly, irrespective of ignition or radio on or off) and a further two wires. One is white with a purple/violet stripe. This is the interesting wire as it doesn't show a voltage or anything. My suspicion is this is the CANBUS network data wire, and is sending digital data from CANBUS to the amp to interpret. That means the existing head unit will be sending a message into CANBUS (Power amp on, fader volume level, left/right speaker levels, etc) and the amp is then reading and responding to these commands on it's own.
That means a simple head unit swap isn't going to work, as firstly nothing will be telling the AMP to turn on, secondly even if it was turned on it wouldn't control the fader/balance settings.

That leaves me with two choices:
  • Run a wiring loom from the new head unit at the front, round to where the factory amp is, remove the factory amp and wire direct into the speakers. That way the new head unit completely controls the speakers direct and avoids the amp
  • Replace the factory amp with my own, still just use left and right (So new head unit couldn't control fader between front and rear) but it would be amplified output to the speakers.
At the moment I'm unsure which option to take.

So I've started to document the wiring I've discovered.
Here is the connector at the infinity amp end. As above I'm calling them connector 1 and 2, connector 1 on the left of the photos above mainly contains power and inputs, and connector 2 mainly speaker outputs. So the connector wiring goes like this:
PINConnectorwiring colourFunction/use
x1green/blue stripeFront Left top +
x1green/yellow stripeFront Left top -
x1grey/blue stripeFront Right top +
x1grey/yellow stripeFront Right top -
x1yellow/red stripeConstant 12v + supply
x1blue/pink stripeignition 12v + supply
x1white/purple stripeCANBUS/Data supply
x1green/orange stripeFrom radio left channel +
x1green/blue stripeFrom radio left channel -
x1grey/orange stripeFrom radio right channel +
x1grey/blue stripeFrom radio right channel -
x2black/green stripeFront left lower +
x2greenFront left lower -
x2grey/brown stripeFront right lower +
x2greyFront right lower -
x2grey/green stripeRear left main +
x2light greenRear left main -
x2green/light green stripeRear right main +
x2green/grey stripeRear right main -
x2green/pink stripeRear left upper +
x2green/blue stripeRear left upper -
x2grey/yellow stripeRear right upper +
x2grey/blue stripeRear right upper -

And now the head unit wiring:

The plug looks like this:

So I've documented what I've found:
PINChrysler wire colourISO/Aftermarket harness colourAftermarket head-unit colourFunction/use
xgreen/orange stripen/aWhiteFront Left +
xgreen/blue stripen/aWhite/BlackFront Left -
xgrey/orange stripen/aGreyFront Right +
xgrey/blue stripen/aGrey/BlackFront Right -
xblue/pink stripen/an/aIgnition +12v
xwhite/purple stripen/an/aCANBUS data line
xorangeorangeorange ILLIllumination
xredredRed Acc-inIgnition/switched +12v
xyellowyellowYellow B++12v constant
xblackblackBrown/Black and Black-12v ground constant

A couple of other points, I've noticed quite a few wires with black electricians tape (Not the fabric factory-fit type, but aftermarket, like the stuff I use!) around wires, notably around the factory amp speaker outputs, in the head unit, etc. I've also spotted a RED wire coming out of the head unit that goes off into the front bulkhead. I'm now wondering if this goes off to the fusebox and to the NBS relay. This is apparently the relay that switches the amp on and off (It stands for Name Brand Speakers, i.e. the infinity system) so I'm going to check as my guess is this car has had an alternative system in at some point and the relay was forced on when power was given to the radio (Or ignition) so I'll check that relay out.
That makes me think replacing the factory amp with aftermarket might be the way to go without having to rewire the entire car.

This is constantly a work in progress, so hopefully it's useful and I'll keep adding to it as I do more and get further on my path!

Friday 24 November 2017

Hizpo Android car head unit MTCD_XRC sofia3gr

* Update 27/11/17 (See end of page)

I received this as a present from my wife for my birthday, I'd chosen it and ordered it but it was still my birthday present as I wanted a project and loved the idea of getting an android head unit for the car.
I knew it would be a project as it's not as simple as swapping the ISO (Wiring) harness in my make of Chrysler and making it work, making it fit into the dashboard, etc. But that's in a separate post.
This is all about the head unit itself which is from a company called Hizpo and was from ebay. Pricing was good for an Android 6.0.1 head unit, for around £100 with all the extra cables, inputs, etc.
The unit is double DIN and it's specs are below.

Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
A-MEDIA AUTO (1024x600)
Baseband: SF3GR_M-26.3
Kernel: 3.14.0+ rocky@hctr930 #55
Build number: sofia3gr_car_64-userdebug
Memory: 918MB

I knew it wasn't going to be amazing performance as it's only a 1Gb unit, and things have moved on in Android so 1Gb is total minimum. So after getting the unit and using it? It's not bad, except for a few niggles that I'm working on.
The biggest problem is that there is a task killer somewhere in the stock ROM that seems to kill any app it deems as using too much resources. That means using Google Maps (which is a big memory hog) gets killed randomly, or other apps do whilst maps is running (e.g. music playing can get stopped whilst navigating). This is the biggest annoyance I've found so far.
So I'm now determined to get all the niggles fixed, so onto how to get around it!

  • ADB over wifi
The first bit is to get into ADB and the shell of the unit, this seemed tricky at first. You can't get to developer options by tapping the build multiple times as the ROM developer has removed that option, so in this case you have a few different ways of doing it. Firstly there is a menu "Factory settings" in the main android settings menu. Tapping on it you get a password box. This password box accepts different passwords for different settings.
126 goes into head unit specific settings
adbon enables ADB
3368 i've not yet tested.
I'm unsure if the adbon alone worked, so I also installed a terminal application and at the terminal put in the setting for adb over IP:

setprop persist.adb.tcp.port 5555
I then went to reboot. After reboot, I connected my laptop and the head unit to a wifi access point and then ran adb connect 192.168.x.x (being the IP the head unit picked from DHCP). If you're not sure what IP it is, install "ADB wireless (no root) by Henry", that will show you your IP and also try to enable adb over tcp too, so quite handy. Doing that, I got a shell (adb shell).
  • Rebooting
This isn't as obvious as it first seems! Turning the ignition off runs a 'shutdown' event on the head unit, but in reality it's going into a deep sleep (with processes killed) mode. So it doesn't do a full reboot on power on (This is GOOD as it stops it taking ages when you turn your car on). So pressing and holding the volume knob, that did the same put it into sleep.
I found that if you press the recessed RESET (with a pen or similar point) that causes a reboot of the device.
Some people with different MCU versions (mine came with 2.58_1) report their shutdown and wake-up are buggy and have problems. I can confirm my MCU version here appears to sleep and wake-up really well. Initial boot time is a few minutes (from total battery off), then when you turn the ignition off the unit displays "Shutting down" and goes into a deep sleep. Switching ignition back on and the unit is back running withing 10 seconds and will resume the last music action, normally playing from where you left off.

  • Root/Su/Sudo
After getting a shell, I tried to get root with su, sudo, etc, and as usual it wasn't already installed. Therefore we need to root it. I'm going to use SuperSU as there are a few methods and scripts out there to do the install. One method is using which is a modified version of what I'll be doing.
I can confirm I've got root using the simple method using the file "". Use the script and adb over wifi and this works great, root confirmed.

  • Developer options/tools
This used to be in the play store as "Spare Parts" but it's since changed it's name, and how to get to the developer options in our modified ROM? It doesn't appear to be available from any menus or able to be enabled. However it is there, you just need to be able to load it! So I installed "Developer Options from uDroid". That creates a link and clicking it will load the developer options screen. Checking through this didn't yield anything that would help me, and in fact I made things worse by causing apps to suspend as soon as they lost activity/focus, but there are various settings in there should you need them!

  • Recovery menu (for rom flashing, etc)
To get to a recovery menu for these units:

* Press reset button and hold until you see the button lights blinking (10 secs approx.)
* Release and press again until you see the lollipop logo
* Release and wait to the recovery menu.
Once into recovery, use the reset button for:
* Move along the options (short press)
* Select an option (long press)
  • Custom ROM
This one has currently eluded me, I cannot find a custom/alternative ROM for these Intel Sofia units, which unfortunately may mean I need to 'cook' my own, which isn't something I've done in a lot of years now! (Going back to the google g1/HTC Dream phone)

  • Bluetooth to phone
This was easily setup, go into normal android bluetooth settings menu, pair with phone, allow for calls, phonebook, etc. So I can then click on the "Bluetooth" button on the home-screen/widget and it will show my dialler screen, load contacts, search contacts, etc. Dialling and using it as handsfree worked great, call quality was reasonable. I've since plugged in an external MIC which has improved the audio quality further.
One problem I keep finding though, is that when the unit goes into standby it seems to switch off bluetooth. I've since installed an app "Bluetooth Auto Connect" by "UniqTec" that keeps enabling it and forcing the connection to my phone. This seems to have solved the problem. However no matter how much I select for PAN (Networking) it doesn't seem to enable this. If I go into Settings > Bluetooth and click the cog beside my phone pairing, the "Use internet access" is always unticked and I have to tick it, this then lets the head unit use my phone for it's internet connection. (As an addition on my phone I've installed "Blue Car Tethering" which keeps the tethering enabled on my phone connection ready to accept the connection from the car.
  • Text/SMS alerts
This is one I'm really looking to solve. My phone is paired via bluetooth to the head unit when driving, so I've got handsfree calling, the head unit also uses my phone for internet via bluetooth PAN. However I've not yet found a good way of getting text messages read out to me by the head unit when they arrive. Firstly you need to 'push' the messages to the head unit. I'm currently trying "Tablet SMS 4 Phone" by estang, but the problem is when the head unit goes into shutdown/sleep it kills all background tasks and won't reload them when it powers back on!

I'm continuing to find out more and figure out these bugs, so I'll keep updating this post when I get more!
For now, here are some images of the unit itself:

* Update 27/11/17
So I've continued to investigate, and by watching adb logging whilst carrying different actions, I've come to the conclusion that ART (The newer equivalent of DALVIK) is doing the application killing. In this case I suspect the default has been set as a little too aggressive and is killing application intents at too high a memory level.
The idea is that the kernel has a built-in application killer that will trigger based on several key triggers. These can be seen/set using the /sys/ filesystem:
cat /sys/module/lowmemorykiller/parameters/minfree 
So this shows the different current settings I'm testing.
x1, x2, x3, x4, x5, x6, where each (x) is a memory threshold and 
x1 represents Foreground Applications, x2 Visible Applications, 
x3 Secondary Server, x4 Hidden Applications, 
x5 Content Providers and x6 Empty Applications
This is in memory pages, so to get actual values the formula is [(M*1024)/4=MP].
Where M is the value in Mb and MP is the memory page values.

So far, this has stopped maps from killing and switching between this and music it seems to have solved the issue. Whether this causes a total system failure due to letting memory get too low remains to be seen.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Car fuse splitters - warning!

I needed to add an extra item to one of my car fuses recently, this was to power my daylight running LEDs (DRLs) and so I found the easiest option was to wire into the ACC fused function in the fusebox. In my car it's in the bonnet to the side so exactly where I need it.

A colleague recommended a nifty fuse splitter that he'd used previously. You take the existing fuse (mini spade fuse on mine) and replaced it with the splitter, which contains two fuses (the original and new one) and a flying lead with crimp connector on. Ideal for this sort of job! (Just be careful not to overload the fuse outlet as the fuse holders were only rated for the original, so an original 20amp if you use 2x20amp and it pulls all 20amp each of them the fuse socket will carry 40amp so may be too much for the wiring, etc!).
So I searched ebay and found what I wanted:

As you can see these are nifty little units, plug them in and add your new fuse. They do go at an angle so it may be tricky to fit in place depending on the size of fuse holder, whats around it, etc, but that should work great.

Unfortunately my cheap-ness then cut in and I started looking for cheaper than £4.49 for 4.
I found some for £3.79 for 4 and with faster delivery, so I duly ordered them. However when they arrived, I think I found why they were cheaper!

The fuse pins themselves have additional plastic around them, almost to the full depth of the pins, so these won't push into a regular mini fuse holder. In addition the fuse sockets on the device itself also have poor connectors and don't hold the fuses properly in place, not securely enough for them not to rattle out during normal driving.
You can see on the photo above the black plastic tab that extends down to the full length of the pins, rendering these useless!
I tried to cut away at this plastic to make them useful, but this ended up with the whole thing exploding and the pins not being secured, so in the end I've given up for now.

Will buy the better ones at some point and do this job again properly!
BTW naming and shaming the dodgy ones the ebay item id is 122558391093.

NOTE: To be fair, now I've looked at the pictures of the ebay sale item they do show this plastic lip, so the photos are accurate!

Friday 22 September 2017

Burton Menswear - A farcical organisation!

This just has to be written down in order to understand the frustrations as a customer I've been through trying to order a suit!
I needed a good suit/tux for a black tie event I'm attending on Saturday 23rd. So, me being a little last minute (I'll admit to this bit!) I ordered what I wanted on Sunday the 17th.

So I placed the order online at at 18:19 and got email confirmation. I selected and PAID for next day delivery, which as it was a Sunday, it would be Tuesday 19th when it would arrive.
Tuesday 19th it arrived, I took it home and tried it, it was the wrong size. So next day I thought I'd go into the nearest Burton store to exchange it, hopefully getting it off the peg and swapped there and then.
Wednesday 20th went into local Burton store and looked for the outfit, of course they didn't have the right sizes in store. Assistant said that we can order online for next day, so she brought the suits up and found the right sizes, type and everything on her iPad. She then carried out the return/refund and went to pay for the new order. However, the card readers on the iPad were currently not working, so she couldn't simply refund me and then charge me again on my card. So she had to use a gift card, charge it with the refunded amount, get it authorised then pay for the new order via their online (staff) ordering process. This seemed to work (Only took 1hr in total!) and she was very apologetic that it was a hassle. I thought fine, it'll arrive tomorrow and all ok. I gave my email for the order confirmation.
In an hour I got an email through confirming my instore order and delivery to me (at work), for Thursday the 26th! (A week later) Again something has gone wrong.
I got straight on the phone (2pm 20/09) to their support, sat for 45 minutes waiting (long hold times) and spoke to somebody about the issue. They said yes they must have chosen the wrong delivery option, very sorry, and will need to cancel it, refund and I can then re-order it again myself.
However, it was a gift card, so they can't refund to me, they have to refund to another gift voucher, which I can then use. They were going to credit it with the full amount+next day delivery to be sure, and I would receive the gift voucher within 1hr. OK fine, so left it there and waited. And waited. And waited. Now admittedly I should have rang back after 1hr passed, several passed and still no voucher. OK I'll leave it until the morning.
Thursday 21st, still no gift voucher, so back on the phone (25 minute wait this time) and they said that gift vouchers take 12-24hrs to come through, couldn't have got it in the hour as last advisor said. However, they went and spoke to the right person who found the voucher request and said they would do it for me to come through. They said, definitely 1hr, if not ring back and be doubly sure! They were true to word this time, the voucher came through within 30 minutes. Great, I can now go on and order again!
So I order the items again online, choosing fastest next day, expedited delivery, product was down to low stock so was getting worried, but order went through. Order confirmation came through and confirmed delivery Friday 22nd. I get an order dispatch note late on 21st evening, all looks good and tracking data will appear tomorrow.
Friday 22nd I click the tracking link to Yodel, and it states "21/09/17 23:35 Your parcel is at our sort centre (Wednesbury)" as the last update. Hmm, I'd have expected it to be at local sorting office by now (Which as it happens is nearby where I work, so I know it's not a far delivery!)
I then go on e-chat with Yodel to get a more concise update. Here is the chat (After i've given security info, delivery address, etc):
YODEL: Thank you. I will just be a few moments looking into this for you.
ME: no problem. Thank you
YODEL: Looking at your tracking, this parcel is currently in the sort centre. At this point in the delivery process we are unable to confirm the delivery date. I would expect the tracking to update within the next 24-48 hours. If
there have been no further scans within this time, please come back to us and we can advise you further. You can also track your parcel at
ME: the parcel is due for delivery today so it can't update in 24-48hrs? This was a timed/paid for Friday delivery
YODEL: I'm sorry to say this parcel will not be delivered today. Its still in transit
Now it's not specifically Yodel's problem, although they have failed to deliver on their paid for service, but that's an issue between Burton and Yodel.
So again I ring Burton, again 30 minute waiting time and get through to Ricky Russell on Burton support who sounds like a trainee, as he has to put me on hold almost after every statement or question! He states that it's dispatched and according to the courier will arrive today. I explain the above chat and he says, ah, so unfortunately we can't do anything for 24-48hrs. Which is of course no use at all! So I then ask the order be cancelled as I'll go and get something myself from another shop that I can find (hopefully!), but this is problematic. The order has dispatched, so they can't cancel it now, I'd have to return it.
Finally we agreed that I would refuse delivery, when they got the delivery back they could then refund it. TO THE GIFT CARD, so I then stated that I never bought a gift card, this was their own do-ing but apparently they have to refund to the gift card. I then would need to contact and complain and get the gift card refunded to my bank account. How well this goes remains to be seen, but for now I'm down the money spent to Burton, plus I'm now going to have to go and buy it again myself.

All in all this has been a terrible experience with Burton, online and in-store, and unfortunately means I'll never be using them online or store again after this farce of an order.
I'd like to know if anyone has had other experiences, I will of course me adding my review to as many online review portals as I can to express my displeasure.

Oh and to top it all off, I had a rant on twitter @'ing Burton, whose twitter account replied to me later on saying to DM them should I wish them to look in further, only to find that they have not followed me, therefore I cannot DM them!

UPDATE 25/09:
I've had an email from "Arcadia group customer service" who own Burton, and they advised:
Dear Customer,

Regarding your recent online order.

Thank you for shopping with us.

Unfortunately, Yodel have advised there has been a slight delay with your parcel 
and you may not receive it in the timescale requested however, we will aim to 
deliver your parcel as soon as possible.

As your order will not be received on the requested date, if you have paid for 
delivery this will be refunded and credited to your original method of payment 
and will take up to 5 working days, dependent on your bank processing times.

If you do not receive this refund within the timeframe advised please contact 
your bank for further assistance.

Unfortunately, we are unable to make any amendments to the delays above.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Should you have any further concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by 
replying to this email address.

Kind regards,

Arcadia Group Customer Care
Which isn't a great way of explaining how they've messed up with this. I've replied back to continue and push them to cancel and get the money returned to me.

UPDATE 02/10:
I've had an email from Arcadia customer service again advising:
I would firstly like to thank you for your patience in awaiting our reply.

I am sorry to hear that you have not yet received your refund on your recent order.

After looking into this further, I can see that this has now been received by
our warehouse team and I have therefore processed the refund today.

An amount of £85.00 has been refunded to both the Gift Card and the Paypal
account on the order. With £63.20 to the Gift Card ending ***8330 and the
further £21.80 to the Paypal account. Please be advised these funds can take up
to 5 working days to show in your account. If you are unable to locate the funds
in your Paypal account, please contact them directly.

If you no longer have your Gift Card, please reply to my email and I would be
happy to arrange a replacement.

I hope that this now resolves your query and I apologise again for the delay.

I reply the next day to this confirming that it was their gift card and that I wish the full refund in cash to my account/paypal as that was my original purchase method. That reply was sent by me on 03/10.
No reply as of 06/10 so I send a reply for an update.
No reply as of 12/10 so I send another reply (I've now removed the # reply number in the subject, knowing this will generate a new ticket in their system so another set of eyes then can take a look)
(I got an automated reply with a new reference number so will see what that reply shows)

17/10 - I got a reply from Arcadia Group Customer Service and it said:
Dear Mr/Mrs Andy

Your query is very important to us and we know you are waiting.

We are experiencing a high volume of contacts, however we are working to respond 
to your email as soon as we can.

Thank you for your patience.
Excellent, thank you! So more waiting.
18/10 - I then get anothe email from them:
Thank you for your email received 12 October 2017.

I am sorry to hear about the problem you are facing.

Having looked in to your matter further I can see that the funds from your 
Gift-Card have been moved to your PayPal account and the funds are of £69.15.

So can you wait up to 5 working days to allow the funds to go back in to your 
account but if you do not receive these funds with in this timeframe please 
contact your bank for further information.

I apologise for any inconvenience that we may have caused.

If there is anything further I can help with, please do not hesitate to contact 
me by replying to this email address.
OK, that looked hopefully, they've sent it back to my PayPal so wait 5 days to check and see what's going on.
On 23/10 I then get an email from Burton (Not Arcadia) which is just comical, so I'm pasting it here:
Dear Andy,

Good news! We’ve now dispatched your order. Your order number is: 351845086

*Delivery Type:* Standard Delivery
*Delivery Address: ***** (My address was here) *****
*Scheduled Shipping Date:* Tuesday 26 September 2017
Huh? The email date/time was 23/10/17 13:01 but the times and dates in the email were old. Was this their system trying to make everything right and sort my refund, or deliver, or something! I checked and nothing new got delivered!

By the 29/10 I still didn't see the refund in paypal and there was nothing pending according to Paypal so I again replied to Arcadia support saying that it still hasn't and to get back to me on what is going on, YET AGAIN!

29/10 3:11pm - I get a phonecall from Arcadia support, not long after my email reply (Quite good actually) who then explained that they CANNOT refund using the PayPal system due to the way the system works (probably as it's not the original order) and that they can refund to my Burton giftcard and that had taken place and to use that card. I again explained that I did not HAVE this card and that it was useless, they'd failed their part of the deal so I wanted my bank crediting with this. He said he'd have to go away and speak to a manager as he didn't understand why the system wasn't letting him do this.

29/10 3:14pm - Another phonecall, from the same guy who again stated they cannot refund to PayPal as the money wasn't from there it was from a giftcard and that they couldn't refund it, so at that point I said you have to return my money as at the moment I'd class this as fraudulently taking my money, he said that I'd need to speak to his manager. After a few minutes I spoke to his manager who'd already reviewed my account and stated he can put me through to accounts who will refund me manually to a VISA card of my choice. RESULT! He transferred me and they did exactly that.
Whilst they were taking my card details I heard the recognisable beep of a streamline credit-card terminal beeping as he put the digits in, etc, so this makes me think they don't often do this! After processing I even heard the printer fire up and print out what I remember (long time ago since I did this!) as the REFUND process. Sure enough within a couple of days the order was refunded straight to my VISA bank account. Yay!

Just a quick reminder:
My event was on 23/09
My order was placed online on 17/09
My final refund was 29/10

Thursday 21 September 2017

Tiny chinese MD81S 9527 CCTV camera

This was an odd impulse buy, after ordering other stuff from I added this to my cart. It was cheap, under £10 shipped from China, so shipping time was a few weeks. Surprisingly it arrived in a UK post bag with UK postage so I'd assume they have UK shippers that handle the final leg.

Firstly, ignore the badly translated manual that it comes with, bits of it are correct but bits of it are totally miselading! "it can also automatically penetrate and apply to all the walls" and other such exciting Chinese translation failures!

Anyway, the unit is tiny.

The large black piece is the rechargeable battery pack. The smaller black piece below it is the circuit board (covered in heat shrink) and on the end of the ribbon cable is the camera. The camera is tiny pinhole sized.
Less than a finger nail width!

So, powering it on, either by USB or by battery you get two LEDs on the top of the unit flickering. RED appears to show power and BLUE some sort of activity indicator. It takes around 10-20 seconds to boot up, once booted if you do a WIFI search you'll find MD81S.
Download to your android phone the "9527" application. Which is used for setting up, etc.
Then connect your phone to this AP and set WPA2 password to 12345678. It'll connect and give you a 192.168.1.x IP address. One you have connected, launch the app (It's called Plug&Play) and after clicking through the tutorial, along the bottom menu, select LAN.
It should then find the camera, if not click the top right refresh icon and the camera should appear. To view the camera image click the image to the left of the screen and you'll get the streaming video.
To setup the camera, click the blue right arrow. You can then join the camera to a WIFI SSID.
NOTE: I couldn't add it to my hidden wireless AP that doesn't broadcast it's SSID, but that may be a limitation. Join it to the AP.

At this point you will be told it will reboot. Mine never rebooted so I pulled it's power. You then switch the AP switch (J on the instructions, so for mine it appeared to be the switch on the right of the unit, where the battery cable comes out the bottom on the left). Switch that and it should switch over to connect to AP.
Mine appeared to do this. If it has problems it will revert back and the MD81S wifi AP will re-appear, which is a reasonable indication of problems.

Once done you can access it from your normal WIFI.

They also have their own "cloud" at which lets you view it over the web. You put in the username and password sticker on the device itself, and in theory you can view this over the web. I've not got this working again at the moment, but need to do some more investigations and testing!

Example image:
(NOTE I wasn't particularly trying or framing a good image here! it was just random where the camera was hanging/pointing at the time!)

All in all, the camera image is really impressive actually, considering it's tiny lens. And it just works, once you've got the hang of the configuration and settings. Longevity? I'm not sure. The main board gets very hot when it's powered so I suspect a component is being over-driven, I may peel the black shrink-wrap off at some point and take a look at the components to find out what is getting so hot under there!

Let me know if you've got this or given it a go and your opinion too!

Extra notes:
If you plug into a USB power supply that isn't enough power, you seem to get a red and dim blue LED on constantly and it doesn't boot.
RED solid, BLUE flashing in a slow pulse seems to be the boot sequence.
Rapid BLUE flashing seems to indicate activity/ready

UPDATE: After a few days of use, I'm finding it only stays operational for less than 24hrs, it seems overnight it stops working. I've yet to discover when it fails, my guess will be during a DHCP renew, wifi renew or similar. The blue light stops flickering and I only have a red LED lit. I'm also going to try an alternative power supply in case this is the issue in that it's not receiving enough current.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Grandstream VOIP phones - Mass reboot script

Here is a little snippet of code that I've written to reboot all Grandstream phones on a VOIP system (Asterisk).
It's very simple, it queries the Asterisk running process for all extension numbers, then uses the SIP NOTIFY method to send a reboot to the phones.

I've tested this on GXP1620 handsets so far and it works great, the phone reboots almost immediately. I've added a 25 second sleep in between each phone reboot, the idea is not to reboot your entire estate at the same time, leaving no phones available. Change that as required. My plan is to schedule this on a cron job overnight anyway, but still spacing reboots out seems to be more sensible.

Caveats: The script simply grabs all extensions and iterates through them all, so it'll try extensions that aren't Grandstream, or aren't phones (e.g. trunks) but those will just get ignored anyway.

EXTENSION_LIST=`asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | cut -d "/" -f 1 |cut -d " " -f 1 | grep -o '[0-9]*'`
while read -r line; do
    echo "Rebooting extension: $line ..."
asterisk -rx "sip notify spa-reboot $line"
echo "(sleep)"
sleep 25
done <<< "$EXTENSION_LIST"

It's very simple and rough but will do the job!

Saturday 16 September 2017

5 in 1 Satin Wave curling wand

You're probably wondering already, how did he use a curling wand on what is a quickly reducing amount of hair? Well in this case my daughter and wife tested this product out for me, immediately opening the packaging up as soon as it arrived home.

It comes in a nice gift box, so you can give this as a present with minimal wrapping up. All of the accessories are in the box, and there are loads of them!
You have the main 'wand' itself that has the electronics and the wire to plug in, then you have the 5 attachments for different thickness of curls. When plugged in you can set the temperature, you click through 9 different temperatures which are displayed on the LCD screen.
My daughter gave it the first go, she has long thick black hair and it tacked it with ease! Curls abounded and she found it really easy to use and light enough (She's complained in the past of them being too heavy) to get the job done. The curlers get hot right to the tip so makes it easy to make sure you get maximum curl!
One minor point was that the warm up time is a little long, but that's a teenagers impatience for you. Otherwise she liked them, and they've now vanished up into her bedroom which is normally the thumbs up from her, using them regularly now.

Take a look for yourself:;keywords=curling+wand
And I think you'll agree for the cost they're an excellent buy, let me know what you think of them in the comments or if you have any questions before buying.

Note: I received this product in exchange for our review.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Vauxhall spark plug assembly

This one is a minor rant, it's about a stupid design that a manufacturer went for, apparently for no other reason than to be different, or to make parts difficult/unique to them!

This is for the Vauxhall Corsa (D edition 2010), and it came about when I was carrying out a routine service. I decided to change the spark plugs, so duly took the top plastic cover off the engine, and found that Vauxhall did things differently!

This is the top of the spark plugs, no rubber boots per plug or anything "normal", this large block houses a set of 4 rubber boots with springs in them that push down onto the spark plugs.

Now, slight problem here. The rubber boots are a very tight fit around the plug housings. Add to that heat, cooling, vibration, etc. You can imagine the rubber isn't so great! Therefore seeing a crack in the rubber boots isn't exactly surprising.

However, what is a problem is that when these rubber boots have cracks or damage to them, they can cause the spring in the middle not to make perfect contact with the spark plugs, and hey presto you get:

Which is of course because the electrical contacts aren't connecting properly to the plug!
Luckily you can source just the rubber boots from our friend ebay and replace that alone, otherwise the whole thing is almost £150!

So I've ordered the above to solve the problem. Thanks Vauxhall for making that more difficult than it should be.

SENSSE hot and cold facial toner

Here's an unusual one for me, this is an electronic gadget but it's for health and beauty! The Sensse hot and cool facial toner unit is a compact device, charged via USB that will heat up to open up your skin pores to help cleanse, then have a cooling action to close the pores and tighten up the skin around your facial muscles, to give your face a 'temporary facelift effect'. All in a little gadget!

And here it is, very small handheld unit, and it's charger base (It uses inductive charging so no need to plug into the unit itself to charge, just drop it on the base).

Before you open it, it comes in a nice presentation box, so this one is again a good idea as a present, as it comes all included and in this nice box with instructions, charging base and the "wand" itself.
After unboxing, you charge it up, and it's ready really quickly. You run it on hot and run it over your face for a couple of minutes, make sure you hit all the curves and creases (I have many!). Hot also has the vibration function which helps absorption of heat and was the setting I felt it worked best on.
The second option is the one that I'm sure many will want to use, the cooling function as the cooling effect helps to tighten face muscles and skin and helps to remove those tiny lines and wrinkles that most of us are starting to get. You do this 2-3 times a week and it helps!

note: I received this product in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Let me know if you have one or tried on and how you got on with it!

Tuesday 11 July 2017

help: clear skin for men

This one is a little different, it's a product to help maintain clearer skin for men, and it's in a soluble drinkable form, not what I expected at all!

When it arrives, you get a box with the 28 packets in it. You use them one a day and dissolve them in any of your normal drinks (hot or cold) or even sprinkled on your food.

The principle behind them is to provide a top-up to your body that helps give a boost to protect and nourish your skin. It has various ingrediants such as Oligofructose and zinc gluconate (to name a couple) that should help clear up your skin!
So a one-a-day to give it a go, so here is the obligatory BEFORE pics. As you can see my skin has a few blemishes but not particularly bad.

And here is the first one. I thought I'd try the first in just water to see what flavour or any taste I could make from it. You mix it with at least 250ml so here is 250ml of water!

And I was pleased to find it didn't have a bad taste, or any taste really, so drank it down easily enough.
Day2 and I tried it in a cup of tea, again no flavour or noticeable taste or change to the tea so all good there!

And jumping forward I've now tried this for 20 days and the result:

See for yourself, my skin does appear to be clearer, how much this has done the job I'm not 100% sure but it certainly isn't a bad thing! So one to try for yourself I'd say as worth a go and see how you get on, I'd like to know how you get on so please do comment.

Also, why not have a go at winning yourself a pack!
Win A help:clear skin 28 day pack of your choice

disclaimer: I received this item for review and to provide my unbiased opinion on the product.

Friday 16 June 2017

Chrysler Grand Voyager flexplate replacement

Here is the long write-up of the saga of my Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8CRD automatic. It's a 2004/2005 model (sometimes called the facelift edition) and I love it. It's the second of the Grand Voyagers I've owned as I think they're great bits of kit, comfortable, big (7 seats, and they are BIG comfy armchair type seats) and lots of gadgets.

A quick summary of jobs/checks covered here:

  • Balance Shaft Assembly on base of engine
  • Accessory belt removal/replacement
  • Oil Sump removed
  • Balance Shaft Assembly removed
  • Injector return leak test
  • Flexplate removal (Separation of the gearbox and the engine)

However, as it turns out some of their parts, mechanically aren't so great. My first Grand Voyager unfortunately died with a cracked block. Yes that's right, the actual block had a crack it it (I suspect this damage was from when I suddenly lost all oil one day travelling for work, limped it to the office, filled back with oil and hoped for the best. Replacement oil cooler and other parts didn't help).

So onto my current GV and this one suddenly developed a really bad rattle noise at idle. The noise got worse over a very short period, perhaps 4-5 days and the noise only happened when at idle. Increasing the engine revs either in idle or drive would lose the noise.

Here is the video of the noise I was experiencing:

So I went about diagnosing this noise, as it was unusual. One automatic gearbox specialist and two general garages listened to the noise and came up with conflicting and bad news.
One said it didn't sound like the automatic box itself but it was related.
One said it was the balance shaft assembly and was difficult to replace.
One didn't know but wouldn't go near it as it was a VM engine (VM Motori which is an Italian engine manufacturer known for their diesel and agricultural engines). Apparently VM engines in consumer vehicles don't have a very good track record.

So after that I decided to go do my own testing. First option was to remove the accessory belt, this would discount:

  • air conditioning clutch and pump
  • power steering pump
  • alternator
  • idlers and pulleys
To remove the belt was relatively straight forward, you can slacken it using the tensioner, just get a relatively large ring spanner over it and twist it towards the rear of the car. This removes the tension. I found I had to attach it to a screwdriver to get a little more length/movement on it to make it easier. Once you have the tension off slip the belt off.
You may need to also remove the steering pump belt. On mine this is on the outer of the main drive shaft pulley and is a short separate belt to the power steering pump. To slacken this you need to undo the bolts around the power steering pump and turn the pump so it slackens the belt. This is quite a tricky job as it is very tight when held in place and took many attempts to get this right.

No change after removing the belt, so it wasn't that. Next was to drop the oil sump and take a look inside, firstly at what is in the bottom of the sump and secondly what I could see into the bowels of the engine. Dropping the sump came up with a few little items in there, nothing big or significant:

PS: Nobody could explain what these were or how they got there, best guess is some previous work left them lying around. But nothing there that would explain it fully.

Peering up at the underneath of the engine not much could be seen, this is due to the balance shaft assembly covering the entire base of the engine.
this photo is looking up at the driver side (right hand drive car) so you can see the main big end bearing (top middle).
Top left and the oily pipe is the suction intake for the oil pump.
Middle to bottom (with the two central rings) is the balance shaft assembly covering the rest of the engine big end bearings.

As this was suggested as another possible issue, I then removed the balance shaft assembly.

NOTE1: DO NOT do this unless you have to! This proved a dead end and was very problematic re-attaching at the correct timing sequence point (You have to use the timing kit an 'set' the flexplate to the correct point in the cycle, then use the timing pin in the balance shaft assembly to set those).

That is the balance shaft assembly when removed. The two cogs on the right connect to the base of the engine crank to spin the balance shafts. The two shafts have counterweights on them and simply spin in a counter-rotating manner. They are supposed to remove knock and judder from the older diesel engines and make them smoother. There are records of these being removed without any harm to the vehicle (A lot of Sebring owners remove them for the 1-2bhp performance increase they give). BUT when removed the oil distribution system is altered, there is a hole that feeds the balance shaft with pressurised oil for lubrication so removing it you have to tap off these feeds, etc. It's OK for a test but not long term.
Again, I started the engine with the balance shaft removed (sump refitted and oil back in) but the noise was still there.

Next was the injectors, to see if they could somehow be causing the noise. So I did the leak test on them initially. This is done by removing the diesel return pipe off the injectors and see how much is being returned. A very large amount indicates an injector problem.
The injectors are at the top of the engine. Remove the plastic cover, and the rubber cover (If you have them) and you'll see the four injectors. On the picture below the injector is in the middle of the photo with the return pipe on the top with the clip (braided hose). The high pressure inlet is the metal pipe off an angle to it and it's power is the plastic clip going off the middle bottom of the photo.

To test for return leak you remove the clip and hose from the top and place a pipe to a jug or bottle to collect the liquid. You do this on each injector. Because the middle injectors have an in and out 'join' pipe you need to feed two pipes to your collecting jug or bottle.
Each injector has a small metal clip on the top as you can see in the photo above, use a screwdriver or pliers to remove the metal clip, once removed the plastic fitting will lift up and out of the injector. You then have to prise the pipe off it so you can attach a temporary pipe going to your collection jug/jar/bottle.

Here is a quick video showing the diesel being collected (See how I've used multiple pipes or blocked pipes so I can collect from each injector):

Then the output after a few minutes of engine running:

Not much at all which is good, shows the injectors are working relatively efficiently. So again, this wasn't the source of problems.

Now this limited what I could do. It was either major engine failure or it was to do with the automatic transmission.

At this point, comparing to others on the internet it suggested the flexplate. The flexplate is used on automatic gearboxes and on a manual would be called the flywheel. It bolts to the main engine crank, has the toothed gear for the starter motor to engage with and then bolts to the torque converter.
(a bit of background info on flexplate is here: though it is a promotional/marketing video!)
So this looks like the source of my trouble. The problem? To get to the flexplate you separate the auto gearbox from the engine, i.e. the bell housing bolts come out and you split the two.

So, to do this you need to get the car up on jack stands securely, take both wheels off and then remove the hubs to allow movement along the drive shaft. We didn't remove the drive shaft as we had enough movement from removing the hubs:

Above you can see the hub removed (and supported with straps). We did the same for the brake caliper too.

With those removed, you need to get to the automatic gearbox top mounts, brackets and cables. Remove the battery, it's plastic base and the bits around it (Remove the wiper assembly top too as that gives you access).

Here you can see looking down towards the automatic gearbox (battery and base removed). You can also see the bolts that hold the gearbox in (two bolts towards middle right of photo, there are another two hidden above those). Also to the left middle you can see the shift lever which we detached (simple clip removal).
The starter motor needs removed (More awkward as you get at it through the gaps you can see here, the main obstacle being the water cooling pipe in the left middle of picture.

You need to loosen all the bolts attaching the gearbox to the block and mounts, as you will be fully detaching the gearbox (torque converter and housing) from the engine enough to remove the flexplate.
In the above photo you can see the flexplate teeth and mount where the starter motor fits (Starter motor was just moved and jammed up out of the way, see it middle right on the photo here with the black ring round it)

 Identifying where all the bolts that need to be removed was one of the hardest parts. There were 3 towards the rear of the automatic gearbox, one of which we had to remove using a long socket extension bar fed from the driver side wheel arch right under the body to the middle. Once the breaker bar did it's job they were all loosened.

Remember not to remove them! That's what holds in the automatic gearbox. Towards the front of the automatic gearbox are the automatic fluid pipes. These had enough flex in them so were not removed.
Also remove the electrical connections to the automatic gearbox (These power the solenoids for the automatic shift. As a note we forgot to reconnect these and caused the gearbox to run in limp mode).

Finally to separate we unbolted the flexplate bolts that were holding the flexplate to the torque converter. These were difficult to get at from the bottom (the supposed flexplate access hatch).

However, once logic was engaged, you can see these bolts clearly through the hole where the starter motor sits, so that's where you bolt/unbolt. DO NOT try through the flexplate access hatch at the bottom which seems how some may have done this, it chews the bolts up! When we removed the bolts they were VERY chewed up and not in good condition at all. (So we sourced replacements. Not OEM from Chrysler but high tensile similar replacements)

Once we were happy with this, we used two hydraulic jacks, one to support the right (when looking towards back of vehicle from engine bay) of the engine (engine mount loose) and one to support the entire gearbox. Once supported slowly removing the bolts (The last three holding it on were accessed through the passenger (left) side wheel arch, as we removed these we made sure the jack was holding the weight (i.e. no pressure on the bolts when removing). Once loose we had to 'wobble' the gearbox along moving the jack on it's wheels slightly to separate the gearbox from the engine.

We separated it enough so that we could reach into the bell housing and undo the central bolts holding the flexplate onto the main driveshaft. Once removed we could bring the flexplate out and inspect it.
Here is the removed flexplate. The central bolt holes are the ones that connected it to the driveshaft and the outer ones to the torque converter.

As you can see there are some serious cracks and damage around the central ring, and it was only just holding itself together!

You can see from this photo how much light is coming through the cracks/damage to the centre of the flexplate. This is typical flexplate damage and causes the noises heard at idle (i.e. mainly when the flexplate isn't under a large amount of strain/pressure)

So now to do the reverse, to install the new flexplate, line it up similar to the one we just removed.
We used threadlock when bolting it back into place to ensure they wouldn't come loose and also ended up replacing the bolts that connect the flexplate to the torque converter as these were badly chewed up. We're unsure how they were in such a bad way, other than potentially somebody doing similar work on the flexplate in the past and not tightening securely (i.e. spanner slipping on the nut, etc).

Once the flexplate was re-attached to the driveshaft we needed to bring the two halves back together, again using the jacks we slid them back together and aligned them using a couple of the fixing bolts to ensure it was lined up correctly.
Re-attaching the bolts around the bell housing and the rest of the gearbox to hold it in place. We didn't tighten to full torque yet as wanted to get them all bolted and lined up first before tightening up fully.

Once it was joined up, starting to tighten each bolt back up and reconnecting everything we disconnected (Remember any connectors you disconnected to reconnect!) and re-assemble which was relatively straight forward.
Back together and starting the engine all sounded good, no rattles or noises and everything was working great.

One other point to note, if you find that your gearbox won't shift out of the lower gears (So sticks in 1 or 2 gear) then this points to the solenoid or 'electronic' shift. In our case it was because we'd left the connector off on the gearbox ECU and so it wasn't communicating with the main ECU correctly. An easy fix luckily!

I hope this helps anyone else with a similar problem, or for a few tips on getting it apart and back together. I welcome comments and info on this one from anyone in a similar position or had similar problems.